Hailed as the answer to everything from split ends and dry skin to a healthy alternative to olive oil, coconut oil is just about everywhere you look.... but is it actually healthy? One Harvard Professor says no.

According to Karin Michels, an adjunct professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, coconut oil poses a greater risk to heart health than lard.

In a lecture titled Coconut Oil and other Nutritional Errors, which has now hit over one million views on Youtube, professor Karen Michels described coconut oil as "pure poison" and "one of the worst foods you can eat."

coconut oil
Coconut oil is 100% fat, with 80-90% being saturated fat

Clean Eating
In recent years, coconut oil has become a popular choice for those looking to live a healthy lifestyle whether it be by following paleo or ketogenic diets or simply trying to eat 'clean'.

According to Harvard's School of Public Health, a survey found that 72% of Americans rated coconut oil as 'healthy' even though only 37% of nutrition experts agreed. 

The popular oil is 80-90% saturated fat and contains no fibre and only traces of vitamins, minerals. While it does contain plant sterols, which may help to block the absorption of cholesterol in the body, a few tablespoons are too small to produce a beneficial effect.

Know your fats
In 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific advisory to replace saturated fats (coconut oil) with unsaturated fats (olive oil). 

During eight small clinical trials, a researcher compared a range of participants on a coconut oil diet to those on a butter or unsaturated oil diet over 5-8 weeks. Ultimately, the results found that coconut oil raised total cholesterol, HDL and harmful LDL levels more than unsaturated oils, but not more than butter.

The authors concluded that because of coconut oil’s effects on raising blood cholesterol, the popular oil should not be viewed as a 'heart-healthy' food and should be limited in the diet.

coconut oil
One tablespoon of coconut oil contains approx 120 calories

One tablespoon
For those at risk or who have heart disease, the AHA advises no more than 6% of total calories from saturated fat or about 13 grams based on a 2000-calorie diet.

One tablespoon of coconut oil comes close to that limit at about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.

If you do plan on cooking with coconut oil, an article on Harvard's School of Public Health website suggests using 25% less coconut oil than you would butter due to the higher percentage of fat solids.